UW volleyball coach says national title in reach
Coach Jim McLaughlin says the Huskies could win it all this season. "It's getting to the top of Mount Rainier," he said.
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Expectations are always high when a new volleyball season begins at Washington. Yet with UW returning loads of talent and with several of its elite opponents nicked by graduation, coach Jim McLaughlin is setting the bar especially high in 2009.
"I like this team," said McLaughlin, who guided UW to the 2005 national title and last December fell two points shy of advancing to a fourth Final Four in his eight seasons at Washington, where his record is 197-54. "If they keep on the path and keep going about business the way they do day to day, they can get to a pretty big-time place."
"It's getting to the top of Mount Rainier," he said.
Does that equate to a national championship?
The Huskies, 27-5 a year ago, are ranked No. 4 in two preseason polls, and they are the unanimous pick by opposing Pac-10 coaches to win the conference title. The Huskies open the regular season at 7 p.m. Friday at Edmundson Pavilion against San Jose State (13-18 last season).
Why such optimism?
"The quality of hard work, and the return we're getting at this point," McLaughlin said. "We have the firepower, the speed, the ball control, the people. We just need to stay focused on the things that tell us what to do and be in good places at the right time, and we can apply a lot of pressure.
"We'll see. But I believe we can do it. These guys are not afraid of the challenge."
Strengths: UW returns all four of its outside hitters from 2008, a talented group that includes second-team All-American junior Becky Perry, UW's 2008 leader in kills per set (3.77).
Also back: senior Airial Salvo, a 2006 second-team All-American at Utah before transferring to UW; junior Kindra Carlson, tops among UW OHs in hitting percentage last season (.307); and senior Jill Collymore, named most valuable player in May when UW swept eight opponents without dropping a set at the USA Volleyball Open Championships in Minneapolis.
McLaughlin says at times he might employ a two-setter "6-2" strategy where all four OHs are on the floor at the same time.
Two other All-Americans are back — junior setter Jenna Hagglund (third team) and two-time national defensive player of the year, libero Tamari Miyashiro (second team).
Unknowns: Three-time All-American (twice second team) middle blocker Jessica Swarbrick graduated. Sophomore middle Bianca Rowland (from Kings) played capably but was not the force presented by Swarbrick, UW's career leader in hitting percentage. McLaughlin: "If [Rowland] can do the things she's supposed to do, and she's getting better, she can be elite."
Sophomore Lauren Barfield, a 6-foot-5 Newport grad, is sidelined by a broken right little finger suffered in practice last week. McLaughlin said he thinks she'll return by the start of Pac-10 play (Sept. 25 at Oregon). Kelcey Dunaway, a 6-2 redshirt freshman from Bainbridge, now rotates with Rowland.
Defensive specialist Megan McAfee will not return for her senior season to focus on med studies. Freshman Jenna Orlandini from La Canada, Calif., might have the edge among four players competing for the DS spot.
• UW plays twice on Saturday, at Seattle U. (Connolly Center) Saturday at 11 a.m. and at Hec Ed vs. San Diego State at 7 p.m.
• Freshman Kylin Munoz, an elite national recruit from Monroe High School who withdrew her commitment to BYU to play at UW, will redshirt this season. McLaughlin says she will have three seasons of eligibility left.
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